The largest National Public Safety Innovation Academy (NIA) cohort to date graced Polk State College’s state-of-the-art Center for Public Safety for the final time on Thursday.
Thirty-one graduates of nine different ranks and from nine different states walked the stage as NIA held its second-ever graduation ceremony. NIA is an eight-week STEM-based executive-level course that helps mid-level law enforcement and corrections personnel take the next step in their careers.
“We are proud to celebrate our largest class to date, representing nine states,” said Mary Clark, Polk State Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness, Accreditation, and Research on behalf of Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti. “This class represents the public safety profession’s best and brightest. None of this would be possible without the vision of our sheriff. Thank you for your vision and leadership.”
NIA was founded in partnership between the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Polk State. Over the eight weeks, participants learn from subject matter experts who provide the tools to craft innovative policies and manage high-leverage situations that leaders face in the ever-changing world of criminal justice.
“This command school has been a dream of mine for as long as I’ve been sheriff,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. “It’s our duty to be on the cutting edge. In a time where our nation is starved for leadership, we must step to the plate. We must be the cream of the crop.”
Friends, family, colleagues, and agency leaders were on hand to congratulate the new graduates. Among those were Ricky D. Dixon, Secretary of Corrections for the Florida Department of Corrections, and well-known Sheriff Mark Lamb, of Pinal County, Ariz., also a candidate for U.S. Senate.
“You all make me so very proud of the top level of leadership you spread while you were here,” Judd told the graduates. “Just showing up is not enough. Being engaged and being a leader in your community is what makes a difference.”
As trends and technology change, NIA will evolve to meet the needs of those in positions of leadership. This cohort featured the first-ever “Technology Trilogy,” where representatives from different tech companies gave demonstrations of some of the technologies that criminal justice professionals have at their disposal.
“Our citizens expect top-notch service,” Judd added. “We’re tasked with providing it to them. Our industry can’t afford to be moving backward when the rest of the world is moving forward.”
In addition to learning from expert presenters, NIA participants learn from each other. During Thursday’s graduation ceremony, class representatives said the bond was almost instantaneous.
“Law enforcement officers can often break into cliques,” said Sgt. Adam Matthews of the Caldwell Police Department in Idaho. “It didn’t take long for us to realize we were sent here for a reason. We felt like family. With unity and effort, this class was a huge success.”
Through two cohorts, NIA has had more than 50 participants from 12 different states, including as far away as Alaska. Registration is underway for the next cohort, which begins on Jan. 16, 2024, with graduation to commence on March 8.
“Sometimes, we are fortunate to be part of something amazing,” said Orathai Northern, Associate Vice President for Career Pathways & Articulation. “I’m humbled to be part of the growing arc of the National Public Safety Innovation Academy. I’m honored that previous members of NIA classes are here. That is the definition of legacy.”